Saturday, May 18, 2013

Super Saturday: The Iron Man Movies

Since 3 has been out for a few weeks I thought I would go ahead and indulge myself with a  recounting of why I love these movies so much. You really need to see all 3 before reading this as I'm not going spoiler free here.I will issue a "Shameless Gushing Alert" though. You have been warned.

There are 3 comic book boxes in my house:
  • One is a grab-bag of stuff I've had forever, mostly Marvel, from Secret Wars to some Spider-Man to a bunch of X-Men I was sent by mistake in an Ebay deal. I have them mostly because I've had them.
  • One is a bunch of Avengers, including a nearly complete run of West Coast Avengers, which I really liked for a while, and its successor, Force Works
  • The most-packed is a box of Iron Man, from around issue 100 up to a little over 300, almost complete, and also a nearly full run of War Machine's first solo series.
Iron Man was my favorite from about the time I discovered him (in the single digits) onward. I liked plenty of other super hero types but he was a lesser-known guy (snobbery at an early age? most kids knew who he was, even if the grown-ups did not) that I thought was really cool.

So I heard they were doing a movie and I cringed - they'll change up something or the special effects will suck or the acting will be terrible. Remember, Superman and Batman had movies before I was born and were on TV all the time, cartoon and live action. Spiderman and Hulk and even Captain America were on TV too, again with cartoons and even some live action (70's live action - it wasn't great but it was there). Iron Man couldn't even get on Saturday morning when I was a kid. Now they're going to make a movie of him? I was afraid that besides being bad it would turn the character into a joke for the next 20 years.

Boy was I wrong.

I will say when I learned Robert Downey Jr. was going to play Tony Stark I thought he was an excellent choice within about 30 seconds of hearing it. So, why is the first movie so awesome?

  • They get the origin story right. Eve the update from 'Nam to Afghanistan is perfect
  • The villain is right out of IM200, one of the signature moments in the 80's Iron Man books, and they didn't screw him up
  • The supporting characters are right out of the comics as well, and handled just perfectly
  • They got the suit right. This is a huge deal.
  • They got the right actor for the main part. Christopher Reeve fit like this. Hugh Jackman was basically an unknown before Wolverine, befitting the mysterious past of the character and slipped right into it. Downey was all too well known, mostly for being a brilliant failure on some level, and this carried into the part perfectly. It seems like this would be the #1 concern but it isn't always - remember the first time you heard about who was going to be Batman in that big new movie? Michael Keaton? I think there's still a faint question mark hovering over my head from that. They got it right this time.
  • Little nods to the fans count for something too: Ten Rings, "Next Time", etc.
  • Changing things up at the end with "I am Iron Man" - now you've managed to show respect for the original material AND open things up completely for the future. The closest thing I can think of to how this was handled was the Trek reboot of 2009 and I liked that too.

Iron Man 2 - some people don't like it. I like it just fine. Why?
  • We open with natural consequences of the unmasking at the end of the first movie with Congressional hearings and a Russian named Vanko building a rival technology.
  • Lots of nods to history - Vanko (the original Crimson Dynamo), Rhodes finally getting into the action, Justin Hammer showing up - lots of that kind of thing.
  • They worked in Iron Man's Briefcase AND the Silver and Red armor in one scene! It's so far beyond my expectations at that point that right there in the theater I was ready to anoint it greatest super-movie ever!
  • Nods to the camera: "I'm here, deal with it" for the recast Rhodey's first scene.
  • Black Widow shows up, much like she did in the comics: pretty face first, action heroine later.
  • Finally, that big finale with IM and WM back to back - when the masks clang shut the second peak of the film hits for me - it looks like a comic book cover, then it looks like a two-page spread as they take down a horde of robots together. Yeah!
No, not that one!

No, not that one either!

Yeah, that one!

Iron Man 3 - the Big Finish

  • We open with consequences again - this time from that other movie, and more personal than public at first
  • Usually introducing a kid into a movie series is a terrible ting - see that last Zorro sequel for all the franchise-wrecking evidence you should need - but it worked in this one. And it was temporary.
  • Not a huge fan of the overheated armor-ripping badguys but it worked OK for the story and it is a comic-book movie.
  • Thought the house-wrecking scene was really well done, better than I expected from all of those trailers.
Sniff .. it brings a tear to my eye! Why can't all comic book movies be like this?
  • The Mandarin thing ... yeah I was pretty shocked as I thought the whole terrorist angle was going to be epic and very modern. Guess not in some ways, a little too "modern" in others, but I appreciate the ability to be shocked by a movie - it doesn't happen much anymore. So I'll call it a draw.
  • Tony Stark investigates a mystery and solves it! How very much like the comic character, especially the early years of the comic books! There's more detective work here than in some of the recent Batman movies!

  • Our nod to history here is to Iron Man #300 where Ultimo resurfaces and Tony gets his crew together - Pepper, Happy, Rhodey, everybody - and has them suit up to fight it. So in the movie it's just the suits (well, Pepper does get to use one) but the visuals are the same. That kind of thing doesn't happen by accident.
  • It ends as appropriately as any superhero movie I've ever seen, especially for a trilogy. It finishes the story and as a side effect pretty much brings the movie character up to date with the comic character in most ways.
Iron Patriot - Beta version
So yes, I liked them. The feeling that somebody gets it and then does it right is a good one to have, and it's all over these movies. The combination of actors, characters, stories, villains, effects, and a general paying of attention to the source material puts them at the pinnacle of the comic book movie pile for me. The Avengers is just the cherry on top. It might not go on forever but it's incredibly good right now.


cologeek said...

I have been a fan of ol' Shellhead since the mid 70's. I have collected the comic through some of the best years of the series and the worst.

These movies have all been great, and like Adam West to the kids of my generation, Robert Downey Jr. will be who people think of when they think of the character.

While I was disappointed in the big reveal for the Mandarin in the third movie, overall they did a great job with the villains and adapting some of the best parts of stories over the years to the big screen. Hopefully RDJ will still make some appearances in future Marvel films even if the Iron Man saga is done for now.

Doc Savage said...

Michael Keaton is the best Batman since Adam West.